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CSOs call on Duterte to pass budget for children, veto pork barrel

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By Melina Hernando-Malipot

Civil society organizations called on President Rodrigo Duterte to pass allocation for children and “veto all unconstitutional insertions” in 2019 budget.

The Social Watch Philippines (SWP), a network of over a hundred civil society organizations advocating for transparent, efficient, accountable and pro-poor utilization of public funds in the annual budget, welcomed the resolution of the prolonged standoff on the proposed P3.757-trillion 2019 budget which has spilled over through the first three months of the current fiscal year.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (KARL NORMAN ALONZO/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (KARL NORMAN ALONZO/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

The SWP, however, noted that there are “serious reservations” taken by the Senate leadership concerning the unconstitutional provisions incorporated in the budget. With this development, the group urged the President “to approve the proposed budget without further delay, affirming the allocations on social protection and environment management, and to hold in abeyance the questionable insertions until a transparent and critical review is undertaken.”

According to SWP Co-Convenor Rene Raya, “the President should now sign the 2019 budget with the budget increase for child and other protection measures intact.” He added that having an approved budget by April “will prevent the further adverse impact in the delivery of urgent social services to the Filipino people.”

Raya said that through SWP’s legislative budget engagement with the Senate and the Bicameral conference committee (Bicam), “some of our proposed amendments” containing alternative budget allocations under the Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have been adopted in the ratified Bicam report on the 2019 budget.

Citing the Bicam report and its correspondence with the concerned agencies, Raya said that the Bicam-approved allocations include P25 million for Quality Teacher and Development Program; P50 million for textbooks and other instructional materials for children with disabilities, additional P1 billion for DepEd’s School-based Feeding Program; P102 million for data interconnectivity of the Computerization program; P85 million augmentation of the child labor elimination program and P2.352 million for pollution laboratories in Visayas and Mindanao under the Environmental Management Bureau.

“With the Senate and the House of Representatives responding to our call for public investment in children, we hope that the President puts his stamp on the 2019 budget by ensuring civil society-led budget proposals that will put forward the best interest of the child are integrated in the General Appropriations Act (GAA),” Raya appealed.

The 2015 National Baseline Survey on Violence Against Children (NBS-VAC) revealed that an alarming majority of children and youth experienced some form of violence in their lifetime, whether in the home, school, workplace or community. “There is an urgent need to address all forms of violence against students in schools and children in distressing working conditions in a responsive and effective manner,” Raya added.

The SWP’s child-focused alternative budget aims to equip public school teachers on child rights, inclusion and positive discipline in everyday teaching to protect school children from violence. Adequate funding for the profiling of child workers will be crucial in crafting appropriate interventions to lift them out of hazardous work and all of the worst forms of child labor.

Meanwhile, SWP’s education cluster, Professor Flora Arellano also noted that more children will benefit from the proposed budget increase. “We are optimistic that the additional allocation for school children to stay healthy and nourished and have access to the internet for research purposes,” she added.

Flora, the President of the Civil Society Network for Education Reforms (E-Net Philippines), also explained that “transitioning to full inclusive education will start with children with disabilities acquiring access to Filipino Sign Language, individual learner material needs and the establishment of learning resource centers.”

Raya, on the other hand, reiterated that responsive and effective child rights programs hinge on a firm policy commitment with adequate and sustained funding allocation in the national budget. “We are hopeful that this administration will work for the sustained public investment for children, especially on child protection,” he said. “We trust that the President will take affirmative action by ensuring adequate funding to protect and fulfill the rights of the child,” he added.

Ensure a ‘pork-free’ budget

Meanwhile, SWP noted that the “ball is now in the court” of Duterte to “remove the unconstitutional provisions and all forms of pork barrel allocations” in the enrolled bill of the proposed 2019 budget.

“To ensure a pork-free budget this year, we appeal to the President to impose his line-veto power over all the suspected unlawful amendments which were lodged in the 2019 budget bill,” the SWP said.

The SWP also expressed appreciation the statement coming from Dutertes’ spokesperson that the President will scrutinize every provision of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB). “This will erase any and all doubts that pork barrel has made its way into the 2019 budget,” SWP added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier said that he has signed the enrolled copy of the 2019 GAB but with “strong reservations” due to “unconstitutional provisions” and a P75-billion “internal realignment” worth of programs/projects under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

The SWP explained that while it is in the power of Congress to formulate revisions to the national budget, these should be accounted for through public disclosure of a list of new or modified programs or projects and duly announced on the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate. “The reality, however, is that no House member has come forward to convey the details of his or her revisions formally and on record,” the network observed.

With few days from the final approval of the 2019 budget, the SWP expressed hope that the President will act against pork with conviction once and for all. “We will continue to remain vigilant and call out against potential anomalies in the allocation and spending of the people’s money,” the network ended.

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